By Frances Vidakovic
When I lived in Croatia, I found some locals held quite inaccurate assumptions about foreigners (defined here as any person born and living outside the country).
While I am grateful it was not everyone – so many people wholeheartedly accepted my innate foreignness – there were plenty who were nonetheless quick to make judgments before accumulating all the facts.
To those people – and only those – I share this list of 10 things many outsiders wished Croatians knew about foreign visitors to their country.
MONEY DOESN’T GROW ON TREES OVER HERE
Honestly we wish it did grow on trees. If that was the case we would spend every day filling up our pockets with gold and coming over to Croatia every year without fail, to stay in our palatial seaside holiday home and share our riches with you. But alas, earning money in foreign countries is not always as easy as it seems.
Admittedly here in Australia our average pay is substantially more than in Croatia but our living expenses are also ridiculously crazy. In Sydney for example the price of an average home is $1,000,000. To support such a loan purchase mortgage repayments would be more than $1000 dollars a week for a period of 30 years. Though we could live like kings with our money over in Croatia here some of us are struggling to make ends meet.
There are plenty of people in Australia who struggle to save money for a deposit for a home and even more who rent for years without ever having the opportunity to purchase a property. To make things worse some people also have great difficulty even finding a decent job.
In addition people spend thousands of dollars every year on insurance, utilities and expenses. As for schooling, if you wish for your child to attend a Catholic school the cost can range from $3000 to $25000 a year per child, depending if you chose to go private or not. Yes we actually have to pay to send our kids to a Catholic school.
I was surprised to find when I lived in Croatia how many people were lucky enough to be given a home to live in or land to build upon when they got married. This is such a rare occurrence in Australia; the most we can dream of is for our parents to help contribute a little to our deposit.
So please know that our life is not like anything you may have seen on Beverly Hills 90210 or Keeping Up With The Kardashians. We don’t all drive fancy cars and shop at designer stores. Most of us have to watch our pennies and it is inaccurate to assume that foreigners are blessed with an extravagant life just because it has been shown that way on an unrealistic TV show.
WE WORK HARD FOR OUR MONEY
Croatians work hard for their money too – I have seen it firsthand with my own eyes. But it is wrong to assume that people overseas necessarily have it any easier. Even though many foreigners get paid more for their work they still have to work super hard for their money and live in a country where the expenses are exponentially more.
Here in Australia most people leave home before 8 in the morning and don’t get home until after 6. That is the norm here. If truth be known our days can often feel wasted when we do crazy hours like that (even though to us it is normal) because we can’t just do whatever we please if we come home after dark.
We can’t take off to the beach, unless we are lucky to live on the water. And for the record, most of us don’t. We also can’t just walk down into the selo unless we live in a small town (once again, most of us don’t) or go to the local kafic to catch up with everyone because outings like that need to be planned and we are unfortunately more time poor than time rich.
Days and weeks can go by without seeing our family and friends, not by choice but by logistics. And while it’s true that some of us work extra hard to make sure that our social life and family isn’t compromised by our work, the fact remains: it takes hard work to make it happen.
WE DON’T COME TO CROATIA TO GET MARRIED – HONESTLY WE DON’T!
Maybe this is just a stereotype but during my time in Croatia some Croatians unfortunately had a tendency thing to think that all single females (and some males) were on a mission to find a mate whenever they visited from overseas. This particularly applied for individuals aged thirty or older – God Forbid they were older and still single at that age! It was almost as if people thought these visitors were coming over to audition contestants for The Bachelor and Bachelorette show.
I should make it clear that while this may or may not be an expectation and pressure placed on young people in Croatia – I’m not entirely sure – in many other parts of the world we don’t grow up with marriage as our sole focus or purpose in life.
To the contrary, this is usually the furthest thing from my minds at the age of twenty. Many of us believe we are still too young to settle into a serious relationship at that age and generally marriages at an early age are frowned upon here.
That doesn’t mean to say that people can’t fall in love at any age or find their soulmate on holidays – it happens and it can be great! It’s just wrong to automatically assume that it’s every visitor’s main priority for booking an airline ticket to your country.
WE ENVY YOU GUYS JUST AS MUCH AS YOU ENVY US
We honestly do. We envy the fact that you have the privilege of living in such a breathtakingly beautiful country. We are secretly jealous of your laid-back temperament, your cool, everything-will-be-okay nature, and amazing culture.
The warmth, generosity and fun, social nature displayed by many Croatians is both admired and treasured by foreigners and of course the country’s beauty is second to none. In a nutshell: don’t worry, we envy you just as much as you envy us.
JUST BECAUSE WE ARE BORN ELSEWHERE DOESN’T MEAN WE AREN’T CROATIAN
It hurts, I admit, to be thought of as less than Croatian just because my two Croatian-born parents came to live in Australia before I was born. Growing up as a child of immigrants a lot of the Australian kids didn’t think I truly belonged here because my parent’s accent was funny and they spoke broken English.
Then I went to Croatia and some people still didn’t think I was one of them either, because of my funny accent and broken Croatian. So where do we – the half and full-blooded second or third generation Croatian imports – fit in?
Where are we supposed to belong?
Even though I may live outside in another country, my blood is still 100% Croatian. My parents were born there, my grandparents were born there, and that is where my ancestry lies. Even if we currently live away from our homeland, I want you to know that it is fine and expected that we too still feel Croatian inside.
WE AREN’T STUPID EVEN IF IT SOUNDS LIKE WE ARE
I don’t need anyone to tell me that my Croatian isn’t perfect. I hear it myself when I speak. I get that I sometimes sound like I am a kindergarten student and my grammar is all wrong. You won’t catch me saying anything fancy and I try to avoid any word that has the T and V next to each other because I am hopeless at rolling my letters.
BUT and here’s a very big but – in my own language I am perfectly capable of stringing together complex sentences.
I have a degree in psychology and a diploma in journalism. I’ve written seventeen books so I am definitely capable of demonstrating discipline, insight and wit in my native tongue.
Still the moment I step onto Croatian soil I feel as though my IQ drops down by around 40 points. If I could always converse in my native language I would be absolutely fine – it would be an even playing field then.
I just want to point out that negative judgement should not be made based on how someone speaks in their second or third language. They are simply trying their best and their speech most probably betrays a greater intelligence existing within.
IF WE HAD THE OPTION OF LIVING THERE, SOME OF US ACTUALLY WOULD
If we spoke fluent Croatian, had a home to live in and were capable of finding a job to support our family, more than a few foreigners wouldn’t hesitate about the notion of moving to Croatia. Some would jump at the chance and go in a heartbeat.
But these language and financial barriers often keep many outsiders with a desire to live in Croatia from living the dream. That does not mean they don’t dream that dream nonetheless.
WE CARE ABOUT CROATIA – WE REALLY DO
It’s hard to explain to Croatians how intricately tied some foreigners feel to their homeland. Even though we live in a foreign land, we still speak about Croatia, think about Croatia and dream about Croatia. Just because we sometimes don’t visit for years it doesn’t mean that the country hasn’t popped into our head more than a hundred times.
We care for it like a grown child who we love more than anything else in this world yet nonetheless had to set free to live his or her own life. Still every day we look forward to our next visit because when we reunite with this child, when we embrace her warm, sweet body and breathe in her perfect, potent smell, it always – always – feels like home sweet home.
THE MEMORIES WE FORM THERE STAY WITH US FOREVER
Even though I only spent one summer as a child in Croatia, those four months still stand out as something superbly special to me. I have few memories from the other summers in my young life – hundreds and hundreds of days that over time I have somehow lost to a sea of darkness, while the ones from Croatia persistently remain afloat, swimming above the surface, demanding never, ever to be forgotten.
The same can also be said for the time I spent in Croatia in my adult years. I can’t forget my days there, not that I would ever try to, and sometimes it feels as though I was just there yesterday. If I had the choice I wouldn’t trade those experiences for any sum in the world. These memories are like an old tattoo, an indelible, vivid mark burnt into my skin and they don’t fade no matter how much time passes.
WE ARE MORE ALIKE THAN WE ARE DIFFERENT
This applies to every single foreigner that ever steps foot into your country, whether they are Canadian, Brazilian, German or English. All of us are human. When we are cut, we all bleed. When we fall, it hurts and if we fall hard enough we scar. We all breathe in the same air and look at the same sky. We all have feelings that get wounded and hearts which get broken.
When we cry we shed the same tears and ultimately we share the same need – to be understood, respected and loved, no matter which city we currently live in. So remember this whenever you next meet a foreigner – deep down we are more alike than you think.